Part SUV, part sporty coupe, the 2011 Juke brings Nissan into the exploding small-crossover arena, the fourth largest segment in the U.S. and one that continues to grow at an alarming rate. Other automakers are setting their sights on this segment, too. When the Juke goes on sale this fall, it will face off with such fresh faces as Mini Countryman and Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, as well as a group of established players that includes Scion xB, Kia Soul, and Suzuki SX4. We recently had the opportunity to drive a pre-production all-wheel-drive Juke around the mountains near Malibu, and found its dynamics to be about as entertaining as its styling is shocking.

Based on Nissan's global-B platform, which underpins the likes of Versa, Cube, and Renault Clio, the Juke is armed with an all-new direct-injected 1.6-liter turbocharged I-4 that generates an estimated 185 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. Paired with a standard continuously variable automatic (AWD comes exclusively with CVT; FWD with a six-speed manual or CVT), the DI 1.6 was eager to rev and proved plenty powerful to motivate the AWD's estimated 3200-pound curb weight. Zero to 60 should fall in the 7.5-8.0-second range -- quick for a crossover that achieves combined fuel economy of 30 mpg -- making up for the appliance whir of an engine note. Unlike the larger Rogue, the Juke is not available with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, an oversight for a sporty crossover aimed at attracting young males into Nissan showrooms.

Of particular note is the Juke's available all-wheel-drive system, which sports torque-vectoring technology, a first for a Nissan crossover. This advanced system splits torque up to 50/50 between the front and rear axles, and, more important, routs torque side to side across the rear axle, which reduces understeer and heightens cornering agility by spinning the outside tire 5- to 10-mph faster than the inside one. To accommodate the additional hardware and complement the improved performance, Juke AWD gets a multi-link rear suspension in favor of the FWD's torsion beam. Over our winding test loop through the mountains, the Juke's torque-vectoring system -- at 64 pounds, it's the lightest of its type in the world, according to Nissan -- made quick work of tight turns and sweeping esses, rotating the rear end effortlessly and composedly. Wearing V-rated 215/55R17 Goodyear Eagle RS-A all-season tires, the Juke is about as "tossable" as small crossovers come.

Penned at Nissan's European design studio, inspired by the Qazana concept, and built at Nissan's Oppama, Japan, assembly plant, the Juke boasts audacious styling, with exaggerated, arched fenders, curvaceous, Volvo C30-esque taillamps, and a rally-style front end with bumper-integrated headlamps. The rear door handles are "hidden" for a coupelike appearance, and 17-inch wheels are standard. Whether you find the Juke's look appealing or appalling, there's no denying that it's eye-popping.

The bold exterior theme carries over inside, where a motorcycle-inspired center console adds spice to standard five-passenger seating, 60/40-split folding rear seat, Bluetooth phone capability, USB/iPod connectivity, and a trick "I-CON" interface that controls the audio and HVAC systems and the drive mode selector, which alters throttle sensitivity, CVT tuning, and steering effort when switching between Normal, Sport, and Eco. The back seat is tighter than that in the Versa, and getting in and out can be chore given the sloping roofline. Cargo, too, at 10.5 cubic feet with the back seat up, is compromised for a crossover, even a small one. Options include a bargain-priced Bosch navigation system (roughly $400), a power moonroof, a back-up camera, leather-trimmed interior, and all-wheel drive, which will add $1200-$1600 to the price tag.

Speaking of a price tag, Nissan says the Juke will start at under $20,000. Given the turbo engine, standout styling, high fun-to-drive factor, long list of comfort and convenience items, and extensive safety equipment (six airbags, front-seat active head restraints, stability and traction control), the Juke should have no problem luring plenty of young, energetic buyers into Nissan showrooms. Even loaded with all-wheel drive, nav, moonroof, leather, and back-up camera, the Juke is likely to come in around $25,000. For a wild ride, that's a tame bottom line.


2011 Nissan Juke
Base price $19,500-$21,500 (est)
Vehicle layout Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 1.6L/185-hp (est)/175-lb-ft (est) turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4
Transmissions 6-speed manual, cont. variable auto
Curb weight 2950-3200 lb (mfr)
Wheelbase 99.6 in
Length x width x height 162.4 x 69.5 x 61.8 in
0-60 mph 7.5-8.0 sec (MT est)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 28/34 mpg (est)
CO2 emissions 0.64 lb/mile (est)
On sale in U.S. October 2010

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